I'm really not expecting the iPhone 5 launch will take place during the Apple [AAPL] WWDC event this June. I don't really think it was ever planned. Here's three reasons why you shouldn't hold your breath:
Supply and demand
The move to LTE/4G has begun, and while the standard is fragmented, with the US and Canada using a different implementation than most of the rest of the planet, it is the direction of the smartphone biz.
Apple's share price has been wavering in recent days since its iPad 4G chip supplier, Qualcomm, admitted itself to be having difficulty meeting demand for its 28-nanometer chips. Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs told analysts: "At this stage we cannot secure enough supply to meet the increasing demand we are experiencing."
There's been lots of chatter about this, so I spent some time reading through the company's financial analysts meeting transcripts over at Seeking Alpha. These strongly suggest Qualcomm has been working toward meeting an expected increase in demand for 4G components in the December quarter. Just in time for the iPhone, perhaps?
Brian Modoff of Deutsche Bank asked for a little clarification as to Qualcomm's build plans. CFO William Keitel responded that production will be "better" in June, "more meaningful" in September and then dropped the bomb:
"And then the December quarter, obviously, the demand backing up into that, our goals are pretty high there in terms of filling this customer demand."
That statement speaks volumes not in terms of what it contains, but in what it suggests. It suggests the company has high production goals in the fourth quarter.
This is telling, as if it has problems furnishing demand for Apple's current demand for iPad chips, then those problems will grow exponentially on launch of a 4G iPhone 5: a launch I'm speculating takes place in or around October.
'A lot of focus on product launches...'
That kind of launch point would drive Qualcomm to ramp up production in the September quarter for the first iPhones to hit the shops, and to maintain production capacity into each subsequent quarter. And with Apple selling maybe 30 million iPhones each quarter, that's a significant customer to serve,
Could this be what Keitel had in mind when he told analysts: "There's going to be, I think, a lot a focus on product launches going into the September quarter and particularly into the December quarter."
Reading between the lines on all of this it seems to me that Qualcomm has been working toward ramping-up production for Apple in the Q3/4 time frame throughout, but had perhaps not been prepared for just how much demand it would face in the iPad and 'life-outside-Apple' markets.
The troubles with 4G
I guess everyone in the world now gets what I was talking about last year: LTE/4G is not yet standardized. The 4G standards used in the US and Canada are not the same used on those few existing 4G networks in the rest of the world.
This has given Apple a headache in Australia and other countries as regulators accuse the firm of falsely marketing the iPad as a 4G device. Which it isn't, at least not in those places. Beyond this, some territories don't yet have 4G networks, and the UK hasn't even handed over the radio spectrum needed to support such networks to mobile carriers as yet.
To achieve the full promise of faster mobile broadband, Apple will need to be able to offer its devices with 4G chips designed to support LTE networks worldwide, not just in the US.
Sure, the US has been the company's biggest market, but this is changing as emerging economies, principally China, promise to eclipse the size of the US market. The 4G support in Apple's iPad is just a learning exercise.
New production lines
Apple's much speculated upon plan to use new metal alloys and in-cell touch panels inside the iPhone 5 should not be trivialized. This will require that Apple and its manufacturing partners put together all-new production lines, and that production on these new lines is rigorously tested.
In order to launch the device Apple needs to be extremely certain that build quality is high. It cannot afford another "antennagate", and company executives have better things to do than to enter damage control for a problem which shouldn't have been a problem in the first place. Apple also has industry-leading customer satisfaction levels and a reputation for build quality to protect.
This means the company will not ship the iPhone 5 until it is reasonably certain that quality standards are high across the production process.
To stress that point, production standards for the iPhone must be really, really high -- even a fraction of a percent of faulty devices translates into huge numbers of disappointed customers when you're selling 10 million devices a month. A 0.1 percent failure rate would equate to 10,000 angry customers.
That level of product failure is fine for most Android devices, which barely scoop a couple of hundred thousand sales at best, but not for Apple, surrounded as it is by bloodthirsty competitors and a media that ritualistically engages in the practice of knocking people and companies down once they become successful.
A move to a new product design using new materials is sufficiently challenging that Apple and its manufacturers will spend months ensuring consistent production standards for the new device.
With these three reasons to back me up, I feel it is unreasonable to expect an iPhone 5 (or new iPhone, or iPhone 4G or whatever else Schiller's marketing team decide to call the device) to hit market before Fall.
For further information/speculation, please read:
- Collected: Apple iPhone 5 to be under 8mm thin, ships Fall
- iPhone 5: Thinner, lighter, faster -- and poured?
- Collected: Apple's 'unibody' iPhone 5 ships fall, claims
- Collected: Apple iPhone 5 ships June and other crazy claims
Got a story? Drop me a line via Twitter or in comments below and let me know. I'd like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when these items are published here first on Computerworld.